Beyond Pots & Pans


by Kerri Lee Cappella

There’s an age-old misconception that Family Lawyers do little other than divide up “pots and pans.” Even a casual review of our website will reveal that our practice goes far beyond that. With that being said, what do we do with the furnishings and personal property, sometimes referred to as “personalty,” that couples accumulate over the years? For starters, it depends upon what comprises the contents of the home and whether the furnishings and items of personal property are of such a nature that warrant expert valuation.

Despite whatever sentimental value an item may have to you, the Pennsylvania Courts will value your personal property items at “fair market value.” Fair market value is not the insurance replacement value, nor is it necessarily what a party paid for it. Simply put, fair market value is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller without any pressure to buy or sell it.

We first need to determine what is in the home. Is an item from a big box retail store or carefully curated from an antique or specialty shop?

For the big box variety, I frequently counsel my clients to attempt to negotiate between themselves. The moment that “expensive” bedroom suite leaves the store, it loses value. Clients are frequently unpleasantly surprised to find out their $15,000 dining room set might only be worth $2000 when the parties separate. Conversely, if the parties have contents of a particular vintage, they should consider hiring a personal property appraiser to come to the home to inspect and value some or all of the contents, which could include the furnishings, fine China, rugs, crystal, and flatware.

Similarly, though the value of most vehicles can be obtained from the NADA or Kelley Blue Book guides, parties might consider engaging the services of a specialized appraiser to assist them in valuing Great Aunt Bessie’s mint condition ’65 Jaguar XK-E. We cannot leave out our rural clients. Farm equipment, livestock, and related equipment often require expert valuation.

My colleague, Lorraine Mervan, recently shared a blog post about the engagement ring.  Along with the engagement ring could be jewelry and watches, gold, and other precious items exchanged over the course of a marriage. We frequently hire experts to value these items.

We will save Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies for another Blog.

Finally, many of our clients have accumulated artwork, wine, sports memorabilia, and other collectibles over the years. Again, we’ve worked with myriad experts who have prepared reports and testified on behalf of our clients.

Whether you have a treasure worthy of Antiques Road Show, or a yard sale reject, we can help you determine how best to value and divide all of your personal property, beyond your pots and pans.


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